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After backing him in 2020, a new poll shows some young voters are Biden's to lose

Supporters listen as President Biden speaks during a Black Voters for Biden campaign event at Girard College, Wednesday, May 29, in Philadelphia. Biden won Black voters under 45 with around 80% in 2020. In a recent University of Chicago poll, that support is more of a question in 2024.
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Supporters listen as President Biden speaks during a Black Voters for Biden campaign event at Girard College, Wednesday, May 29, in Philadelphia. Biden won Black voters under 45 with around 80% in 2020. In a recent University of Chicago poll, that support is more of a question in 2024.

Five months out from the presidential election, the state of the youth vote, in some ways, remains a question mark.

It’s a regularly covered topic as President Biden continues to receive low marks from Gen Z and millennial voters, even as the same age group decidedly voted for him four years ago.

But among younger Black, Latino and Asian American voters, who overwhelmingly sided with Biden in 2020, and at higher rates than young white voters did, support has considerably faltered, according to the University of Chicago’s latest GenForward survey.

The survey, exclusively obtained by NPR, which was conducted from May 10-22, polled the political attitudes of 2,089 Americans under 40, with largely equal samples of white, Black, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) individuals.

It found that just one-third of all young Americans said they would back Biden if the election was held at the time the survey was conducted. The poll also reflects a virtual tie in the race. Biden leads former President Donald Trump by just two points, and 34% of respondents are currently backing a third-party candidate or said they would support “someone else.”

Plus, despite speculation over how U.S. support for Israel may negatively affect Biden’s youth coalition, the poll found that the war in Gaza is not the top voting issue for most young Americans. Instead, economic concerns, particularly over inflation, remain front and center.

That said, the economy is one of several policy areas, along with immigration and the war in Gaza, where respondents were less likely to pick Biden as the best candidate to handle the issue, illustrating a potentially deeper problem for his campaign with younger Americans.

Biden’s 2020 coalition is missing in 2024

Broken down by race and ethnicity, Biden has particularly lost ground with Black and Latino young people.

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In 2020, 89% of Black voters aged 18-29 voted for Biden, as well as 78% of those aged 30-44. In the latest GenForward survey, just 33% said they would support him if the election were held today and 23% chose Trump.

Trump is beating Biden among young Latino voters by a four-point margin. It’s a significant drop in support for Biden compared to four years ago, when he won 69% of Latino voters under 30, and 62% of those 30-44.

When looking at a sample of only registered voters, the numbers improve for Biden and push him back ahead of Trump with Latinos, but the margins remain slim. Biden’s support with Black voters only ticks up two points to 35%.

“Young people are saying to Joe Biden, ‘win me, win my vote,’” said Cathy Cohen, a professor at the University of Chicago who founded and leads the GenForward poll. “'Don't assume I'm going to vote for you now.'”

That statement rings true particularly for individuals still searching for a different candidate, even as the presidential primary season is virtually finished. Among both Black and Latino Americans, about a quarter said they would vote for someone else.

There are several paths for the “someone else” voter and Cohen argued opinions could likely change as the election nears closer.

“This is how young people are kind of showing up right now as we begin to enter the summer,” she added. “Come November, when there is something at stake… those numbers could look a little different.”

But in GenForward’s June survey four years ago — which did not include third-party candidates — Biden did have considerably more support. He received backing from a majority of Black, Latino and Asian Americans and an average of just 15% said they would vote for someone else.

The latest poll’s inclusion of third-party candidates Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West may also indicate how additional names on the ballot could splinter the youth vote in the fall. A similar result was reflected in the latest Harvard Youth Poll, Biden defeats Trump in a head-to-head matchup, but when third-party candidates are included, the margin decreases.

Economic issues are driving voters, not the Israel-Hamas war

Inflation ranks first across all groups when asked what issue is most important when voting this fall. Concerns around economic growth come second for Black, Latino and AAPI young people, while “threats to American Democracy” does for whites.

To Cohen, a lot of Biden’s problems revolve around the current state of the economy, and though inflation is slowing, she argues these shifts haven’t fully resonated.

“These young people are dealing with increasing rents, increasing food prices, increasing gas costs, and their incomes are less flexible, I would argue, than older folks,” she explained.

Gen Z and millennials are not alone in prioritizing economic issues. It consistently ranks number one across generations and racial groups. In this latest poll, issues often linked to younger voters, like abortion rights, curbing gun violence, addressing climate change and ending the war in Gaza, appear lower on the list of important issues.

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When asked to choose which presidential candidate would do the best on issues relating to immigration and inflation, Trump has the most support overall. But, in the question, which gave respondents the options of Trump, Biden, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and “none of them,” Trump is closely followed by “none of them.”

One of Biden’s areas of relative strength, abortion access, has been a cornerstone of his campaign. Biden leads by just three points followed by the option, “none of them.”

In the 2022 midterms, safeguarding abortion access was the top motivator for voters under 30, and they turned out overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates.

It remains an important electoral issue in the GenForward poll: a third of overall respondents said they would only vote for a candidate who shares their views on abortion, and nearly half agree that individuals should, “always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice.”

On the Israel-Hamas war, just 4% of young Americans overall said it’s the most important voting issue for them. A knowledge gap on the topic also exists. Respondents were most likely to choose “don’t know” in response to questions regarding support and sympathy for Israel and the Palestinian people, as well as who to blame for the conflict when given the options of Hamas, the Israeli government, the U.S. government, the Iranian government and all of the above.

Among AAPI young people, the issue holds more weight, 10% say it’s the most important issue when voting in the election and six in 10 want a permanent ceasefire.

And young people overall support an end to the war, with 53% backing a permanent ceasefire.

That all said, Biden holds low approval ratings over his handling of the conflict, with just 12% support, compared to 49% disapproval and 39% choosing neither option.

It all underscores the complex choice many undecided young Americans have this fall, Cohen argued, especially for voters of color, who may typically align themselves with Democratic values.

The likely choice: get back on board with Biden or effectively stay home.

“In a swing state, if the Biden campaign is dependent on those young people and they don't vote, in some ways it is a vote for Trump,” Cohen said.

“I think we don't take seriously enough,” she continued, “what does it mean if enough young Black people or enough young folks of color decide just not to vote?”

Copyright 2024 NPR

Elena Moore
Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.